This wino arrived at 10:30 a.m. in the town of Sierre. Frankly, Sierre is not a place to visit for its charm, though there are exceptions.
But you gotta love a town where, once a year, two steps from the train station you can walk up to a bar in the middle of the street and get a glass of very tasty wine.
By noon, I noticed the cobblestones were blatantly trying to trip me, even though I had tasted no more than 30 wines. That probably sounds like a lot, but it was just a sip or two of each. Yes, there were spitting buckets, but the latest oenological research has concluded that spitting out perfectly good wine is totally dorky and could stain your shirt.
I had decided to restrict myself to just a few grapes, and in honor of my new home, I started with the second-most cultivated Swiss grape, chasselas. I hope this doesn't ruin my chances for being granted permanent residency, but I find Swiss chasselas, especially found in Fendant wines, to be flabby and oily, not to mention too opinionated and prone to wearing the wrong size shoes. After tasting about 10 Fendants my opinion was only confirmed. So I switched to another grape popular here, petite arvine, and after trying it in 6 or 7 Swiss wines, each quite different in style and ambition, decided that it's like a very chic woman -- attractive in all kinds of different clothes, though not necessarily naked. And I promise that that'll be the end of the opaque pretentious metaphorical wine talk for today.
To regain mastery of the cobblestones, I paused for a big lunch of roasted chicken and country potatoes washed down with lots of water, then began to stroll and taste again. By now I was limiting myself to pinot noirs, Switzerland's most cultivated and delicious grape. I'd go up to a tent where 5 or 6 vintners were each offering 10 or 12 reds and whites, but I would taste only their pinot noir before moving on. In this way, a couple hours later, I was still walking and talking and not drooling or belting out Moulin Rouge tunes at an imaginary karaoke bar.
All kinds of people had come and paid their 40 francs (about US$40) for their very own Vinea engraved wine glass with which to taste unlimited wines. Some were super-serious oenophiles with sharp pencils and permanently furrowed brows. Others were drunks with educated tastebuds. Most were fun-loving wine lovers who would swirl the half-centiliter of their latest wine, stare at it, sip, talk, laugh and sip again and again and again.
There was food too, including of course sausages and the traditional melted cheese dish, raclette. You could smell when you were getting close to the tent selling this pungent melted cheese, potato and pickle acquired taste. I held my breath while I took a photo of the rotating steampunk mechanical device that allowed rapid service. I have nightmares of a panel of stern Swiss judges requiring me to eat a sagging plate of raclette before granting me permanent residency.
But what's that got to do with a wine festival?
About 4:00 I boarded the train back home with a last taste of fresh petite arvine in my glass sitting on the tiny train table by the window. (Yes, in Switzerland you can board a train with a glass of wine.) The lady across the aisle smiled at me as the Alps sailed by.